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Updated 4:00 PM September 19, 2003
 

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UMMA scores exclusive exhibition of Romanov art


U-M is known around the world as the leaders and best. For two months beginning Sept. 21, the University will be the only—the exclusive venue for an exhibition of art from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Hubert Robert's Ancient Ruins Serving as a Public Bath' from the Museum of Art exhibition, The Romanovs Collect: European Art from the Hermitage.' (Photo courtesy The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2003)

As part of the festival "Celebrating St. Petersburg: 300 Years of Cultural Brilliance," the Museum of Art (UMMA) will host "The Romanovs Collect: European Art from the Hermitage" Sept. 21-Nov. 23. The exhibition, featuring 142 pieces loaned from the Hermitage, is a major part of the campus-wide celebration.

"This is one the most ambitious cultural undertakings the University has ever mounted," says UMMA Director James Steward. "This festival really is, both qualitatively and quantitatively, unique among the many anniversary celebrations being staged in the United States. It speaks to the University's commitment to being a leader in scholarship and in the highest levels of quality."

Steward says the collaboration with the Hermitage is the first large-scale partnership between "one of the top museums in the world" and a North American university. The Hermitage has lent works to institutions around the world, but never on this scale to a university museum, he says.

Discussions about bringing the artwork—including paintings, drawings, tapestries, silver, porcelain and furniture—began some three years ago, Steward says. He says the most challenging part of securing the works, many of which never have left Russia since they were acquired, was negotiating almost 150 loans from a collection of untold millions.

"Most of these pieces are not in regular view in the Hermitage," Steward says. "Even for people who have been to St. Petersburg, it will be a unique opportunity to see masterpieces brought into juxtaposition."

The exhibition is organized chronologically by the Romanov tsars who collected them, focused on the period from the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. According to Steward, the exhibition is neither an art historical survey nor a survey of Russian art, but a history of the Romanovs' collecting across 214 years of rule.

The exhibition is particularly rich in works from the 18th century, Steward says. He says Catherine the Great (who ruled from 1762 to 1796) collected much of the Hermitage's holdings, with a special interest in the art of her own time. The Romanovs used their art collections to help Russia become, at one time, the greatest power in the world, Steward says.

"It is going to be a visually arresting installation; they are very glamorous objects," Steward says. "The Romanovs' tastes were highly embellished, and they had the resources to indulge those tastes. They used art collecting as a way to make a statement about their country—that it was of a stature to play with the big boys,' rivaling the stature of the French court at Versailles."

The end of the exhibition is particularly touching, Steward says. It features seven items collected by Nicholas II—the final Romanov tsar. Nicholas collected few works of art during his rule, which ended with the 1917 revolution. Steward says Nicholas was a family man, and the objects he acquired were more domestic than imperial, reflecting the conflict between his imperial role and his taste for quiet family life.

Some three years in the planning, the actual installation of the Hermitage loans has been a challenge, as UMMA just three weeks ago completed a stint as the only U.S. stop on an international tour of the exhibit "Auguste Rodin: The Collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art." The first loans from Russia arrived in Ann Arbor Sept. 5.

Tickets are required for the Romanovs exhibition and can be purchased at (800) 585-3737, http://www.ticketsplus.net , or at the museum beginning Sept. 21. Tickets—$8 for adults and free for students in the state of Michigan with ID—will be sold for specific time slots: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. or 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Thursday; and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information on the "Celebrating St. Petersburg: 300 Years of Cultural Brilliance" festival, visit http://www.umich.edu/stpetersburg/index2.html .

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